Should you friend your befriendee on Facebook?

The expanded use of social networking produces a unique challenge for Volunteer Managers, particularly for mentors and befrienders projects. Many people today use social networking as one of their primary methods of communication and it can be a wonderful way of keeping the lines of communication open. However, social networking can also blur boundaries and this can be confusing to service users if they are given insight into the lives of volunteers in ways that might not be recommended. It can lead to a shift in how that volunteer is perceived by that service user which can change their understanding of the volunteers’ appropriate role in their life. It is nearly impossible to stop the exchange of personal details about oneself in a social networking arena.

Volunteers should consider their role when making the decision to connect with service users through social networking, particularly in mentoring or befriending relationships. Despite mentors and mentees entering into their relationship on equal terms, there is still a power dynamic because the mentor is put into a position of responsibility.

As volunteer manager’s you need to be clear about what the organisations policy is and what the pitfalls of creating social media relationships might be. This should be carried out during induction and training and followed up throughout the volunteering placement.

Pros:

  • Some people utilize social networking more than they use email. It may be easier to communicate if you are connected through social media.
  • Mentees may feel closer to their mentors if they are connected to them through social media.
  • Social media provides an opportunity to share information quickly through the use of status statements and messages.
  • Social media connections are part of normal adult relationships, to impose a bar on them draws attention to a superficiality in relationships.

Cons:

  • Social networking can blur boundaries.
  • Service users who are “friends” with volunteers may see information, language or pictures that are not appropriate for them to see because of the nature of their relationship.
  • Mentors may see things on their mentee’s profile that are questionable in nature. Questions arise regarding what needs to be reported to the program. Reporting on these things may cause the mentee to lose trust in the mentor.
  • Service users may have difficulties maintaining healthy relationships and it’s hard to control social media connections once they have been made.

As so often before there’s not a clear right or wrong. It depends on your project, your clients group’s needs and your organisations assessment of the risks. But this is an important topic and if it’s not addressed social media connections will be made without any input or support from the organisation.

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